Harmful bacteria that may be in the soil or water where produce grows and may come in contact with fruits and vegetables and contaminate them.  Fresh produce may also become contaminated after it is harvested, such as during preparation or storage.

Basic Safe Handling Rules:

  • Handle fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry, and seafood products.  Use separate utensils and clean thoroughly after use.  Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and seafood products and the preparation of fresh produce.
  • Wash produce and knife before peeling to avoid transferring bacteria from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  • Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below.
  • All pre-cut or peeled fruit must be stored in refrigeration or on ice to maintain both quality and safety.

According to the Environmental Working Group, washing produce reduces but does not eliminate pesticides.  Peeling sometimes helps, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the skin. Nevertheless, they suggest consumers wash all produce and buy organic when possible.

Washing produce is fairly straight forward.   Some customers like using a commercial produce wash because it gives them peace of mind.  While generally considered safe, the actual effectiveness of these washes is debated.   Even if they remove surface residues, one can't be sure that all pesticides have been eliminated.  Some evidence suggests water is actually good enough.  In a study of three commercial washes, University of Maine researchers found that distilled water was equally, if not more effective, in removing microbes such as bacteria and mold.  Another study at Tennessee State University also found that water worked as well as the vegetable wash tested.

Customers can make their own wash using a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water. This can dissolve residues and kill bacteria: just spray it on, rub, and rinse with water.

Why This Matters:

Fresh produce may become contaminated after it is harvested, such as during preparation or storage.  Washing produce helps to eliminate dirt and grit and reduce the risk of consuming produce that has been contaminated with bacteria or mold.  Washing produce reduces but does not eliminate pesticides, but it is still a good practice and natural product store staff must practice good washing and handling practices.

Raw meats and seafood can contain harmful bacteria and pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli.  These bacteria can only be removed by cooking or washing thoroughly.  Produce must be washed and prepared using different utensils than those used on meats and seafood or by thoroughly cleaning shared utensils between the preparation of meats, seafood and produce.

Vinegar kills bacteria, so it is the best consumable ingredient to use in a home-made or store produce wash.